Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor urging the Senate to vote yes on the Iran amendment to the NDAA and calling on President Trump to stay tough in his G-20 meetings with President Putin and President Xi Jinping. Below are his remarks which can also be found here.
Thank you, Mr. President. As the Leader and I announced yesterday, we have an agreement in place to vote on passage of the defense authorization bill today and then on an amendment to the bill tomorrow, led by Senators Udall, Kaine, Merkley, Murphy, Paul and Lee, to accommodate all Senators who wish to vote. That’s why we’re doing it tomorrow. If the Udall amendment is passed, it would be adopted to the defense authorization bill, even though the vote occurs afterwards.
I want to thank the Leader for understanding our position that the Senate ought to vote on this important amendment, which in essence, would prohibit funds for hostilities with Iran without an affirmative authorization from Congress. Congress gets to approve or disapprove of wars, period. It is crucial for the Senate, and Congress as a whole, to examine potential conflicts, and to exercise our authority in matters of war and peace.
Now let’s start with the facts. Ever since President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, our two countries have been on a path towards conflict. For the past month, we’ve been locked in a cycle of escalating tensions with Iran. Iran attacked a tanker in the Gulf region and shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. The U.S. government has responded to both provocations, and the President reportedly considered, then pulled back on, a military strike.
The American people are worried—and rightly so—that even if the President isn’t eager for war, he may bumble us into one. Small provocations in the Middle East can spin out of control. Our country has learned that the hard way. When the President is surrounded by hawkish advisors like John Bolton and Secretary Pompeo, the danger is even more acute.
So while the Majority Leader says “no one is talking about war,” that’s only true until folks do start talking about war. And by then, the chance to clarify that this president requires Congressional authorization before engaging in major hostilities may have passed us by.
And this idea that we’re not talking about war? Well, the president said he was ten minutes away from a major provocation. And if the reports are correct, it would have been on Iranian soil—three missile bases. And the president at one point said in effect, ‘We will smash Iran, blow it to smithereens,’ or something to that effect. People are talking about war. This president is.
Even though it is plainly written in the Constitution that the legislature alone, not the executive, has the power to declare war, the Trump Administration is already signaling that it doesn’t need Congress. The president and his team are playing up links between Al Qaeda and Iran, potentially setting the stage for them to claim legal authority under the sweeping 2001 authorization of military force to strike Iran without Congressional approval. The president himself, asked if he believes he has the authority to initiate military action against Iran without first going to Congress, replied: “I do.” He continued, “I do like keeping [Congress] abreast, but I don’t have to do it legally.”
So when it comes to a potential war with Iran, President Trump, yes you do. You do. You do.
The Founding Fathers, our greatest wisdom in this country, worried about housing war powers in the executive branch for precisely this reason. As James Madison wrote to Jefferson, who was not there when they were writing the Constitution—he was plenipotentiary to France—here’s what Madison wrote to Jefferson: “The Constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly, with studied care, vested the question of war to the Legislature.”
That’s Madison, who put more into this Constitution than anyone else. Let me read it again. It’s clear as a bell. Madison wrote to Jefferson, “The Constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly, with studied care, vested the question of war to the Legislature." If there was ever a president who fits that description, it’s Donald Trump.
The Framers worried about an overreaching executive waging unilateral war; my colleagues know well that we haven’t had an overreaching executive like the one we have now in quite some time, if ever.
So if it comes to it, we should expect the president to challenge Congress’ war powers; he’s basically already told us that he would.
So my colleagues should vote to strengthen our ability to oversee this President’s strategy with Iran. That’s what the bipartisan Udall amendment would do. Nothing more. There’s been some fearmongering about how the amendment might tie the hands of our military. It would not. It is explicitly written that, in no way, should it be construed to prevent the US military from responding to an act of aggression or from acting in self-defense.
It is high time that Congress reestablishes itself as this nation’s decider of war and peace. We have been content too long to let the executive take all the initiative and responsibility for military action abroad. The American people are weary of the endless conflicts in the Middle East, the loss of American lives and American treasure. The Udall amendment would mark the beginning of Congress reasserting its constitutional powers. I strongly urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote “yes” tomorrow.
Now, on another matter. President Trump has arrived at the G-20 Economic summit in Japan before travelling for a state visit in South Korea. Already, the President has managed to insult our longstanding allies, including Germany and Japan—the host nation. Rather than undermining out alliances, here are two important things the President should do while at the G20:
First, Russia and Vladimir Putin. When President Trump sits down with the Russian President, he must send an unmistakable warning that the United States will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections in 2020. President Trump has no excuse: the Mueller Report, FBI Director Wray, virtually our entire intelligence community concluded that Russia was guilty of interfering in our elections, and that 2020 would be the next big show. President Trump has a responsibility to defend the United States.
By directly challenging Putin, he will send a signal—not merely to Putin but to all of our adversaries—that interfering with our election is unacceptable, and that they will pay a price—a strong price—for trying.
Second, China and President Xi. Now that trade negotiations between our countries seemed to have stalled, this is a chance to put them back on track. For that to happen, the President must remain strong. He cannot go soft now and accept a bad deal that falls short of reforming China’s rapacious economic policies—cyber espionage, forced technology transfers, state-sponsorship, and worst of all, denial of market access.
President Trump, you know it, we’ve talked about it: you have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform China’s economic relations with the world and put American businesses and American workers on a level playing field. Stay tough. Do not give in. Make sure Huawei can’t come to the United States, and we cannot supply it. Enough with the criticism for our allies—aim it at our adversaries, China and Russia, and you’ll have a much better chance at making the G20 a success for American interests.